‘Forgive and Forget?’ was the title of my last blog article, it looked at the dilemma and merits of doing so. But what happens when you decide it is time to move on irrespective of the need to forgive and forget? How do you finally let go?
Letting go and Loss
Moving on in your mind or literally going somewhere – or both perhaps? That is the wrench expats can feel moving countries; with all that is familiar beyond reach – often in a blinking of an eye or the time it takes to make a long haul flight!
Expat or not, we all have losses in our lives; we move schools, change jobs, move house, loose contact with friends and occasionally, sadly, a loved one dies. We usually adjust to these normal life events, given a little time to accept and integrate the changes.
Transitioning and letting go can still be tough, particularly if you experience the deep grief associated with death or another significant ending (examples being: divorce, suffering chronic illness, addiction, or as mentioned a cross cultural move).
It can enhance our ability to cope if we understand our natural process, typically through a sequence of emotional stages. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, refers to this as ‘The Grief Cycle’, her model forms the hypothesis that people undergoing catastrophic personal loss will experience “five stages of grief”.
Although the model was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients it can be useful to others undergoing significant loss.
Another model you might find useful was adapted from the Kubler-Ross research to help people cope better with change in the workplace. Known as S.A.R.A.H. Again, it helps us to understand our process, acknowledging that as people meet with change they generally have the following reactions:
Emotions Accompanying Loss
Speaking from my own experience, I felt a plethora of mixed emotions when I left England to take up another foreign assignment to Texas. I struggled with sadness, anger, disbelief, guilt and resentment at leaving friends and relatives. Conversely I also felt some relief as I believed I was doing the right thing for my partner by supporting his career and that it would benefit the whole family. Although this holds true, once I discovered there was no hope of continuing my new found career as a therapist, I found myself unable to cope with my accumulation of losses (as I saw them) for some time.
In my book ‘An Inconvenient Posting’ published by Summertime Publishing, I wrote:
“Angry was a word I preferred not to apply to myself. How about ‘frustrated’ or ‘fed up’? At times I hated myself for expressing my anger and sadness, I wanted to cope for the children’s sake. They had not asked to come here (Houston) and were coping better than me.”
Tips – What Helped me ‘Move On’
My journey back to happiness from an episode of depression and the adventures our family encountered are detailed in the book, but a number of things helped me let go and move through my own cycle of grief which I would like to share with you:
- Writing and journalling my thoughts and feelings in a private place.
- Acknowledging what was going well and noticing what I did like about my new situation!
- Visualising myself happy and settled in my new home – it was tough on the black days but it still helped to imagine a positive outcome.
- Pushing myself to talk to people, getting supportive comments from old friends and making the effort to initiate new friendships even, when my heart wasn’t in it.
- Getting out of bed straight away, jumping in the shower, having breakfast and leaving the house.
- Setting simple, small goals and gradually doing more as I could manage them.
- Acknowledging there is no magic cure for depression; with professional help I became my own detective, working out what had gone so wrong and why I was depressed. After all, nobody had made me leave ‘home’ …
- Remembering that time can be a great healer if you take steps to care for yourself emotionally and physically.
- Seeing my progress, albeit slowly at times, through The Grief Cycle helped encourage me that I was healing. It normalised my shock and anger and gave me hope that ‘Acceptance’ might follow.
On Grief and Grieving, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler
Transitions, Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges
When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron
The Emotionally Resilient Expat, by Linda Janssen
An Inconvenient Posting, an Expat Wife’s Memoir of Lost Identity, Laura J Stephens